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Rock Legend Tom Petty Passes Away

Tom Petty, age 66, passed away on October 2, 2017 in Santa Monica, California from cardiac arrest. Petty made a name for himself in the rock genre and had a huge impact on the music industry. Petty was born in Gainesville, Florida on October 20, 1950. With no interest in sports and a very distant relationship with his father, Petty found an escape after he saw The Beatles perform on The Ed Sullivan Show. Petty knew what he was destined to do: play music. Before performing, he had several stints with jobs like gravedigging and working as a grounds man for the University of Florida.

It wasn’t until the 1970s that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers was born. Their single, “Breakdown” was re-released in 1977 after its initial release was unsuccessful, but the second time around still didn’t prove positive. The Heartbreakers’ music was a strange mix of punk rock, country rock, and plain rock and roll with a lead singer who had a stubborn Southern voice that people hadn’t really heard yet. However, their third album, “Damn the Torpedoes” went platinum, selling over two million copies. That album features the popular lively songs, “Don’t Do Me Like That,” and “Refugee” as well as the slower ballad, “Here Comes My Girl.” It wasn’t long before Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were a household name, playing at house parties and all over the radio. The band toured together for several years at venues like Madison Square Garden, and Philadelphia’s John F. Kennedy Stadium.

Petty also had a career with The Traveling Wilburys, a band that consisted of other famous rockers at the time, like Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison. They recorded two albums together before Petty pursued his solo career, which he probably was most well known for. His first album, “Full Moon Fever,” featured the hits “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” which was accompanied by a strange music video that featured a cartoon Petty running around in an Alice in Wonderland-like world, and perhaps his biggest hit, “Free Fallin’,” which has been used in the popular movie Jerry Maguire, an episode of The Sopranos, and been covered by many artists, like John Mayer and Stevie Nicks. The song was ranked at #177 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1999, and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in December of 2001. The band’s final album, a Greatest Hits record received diamond certification by the Recording Industry Association of America Certification (RIAA) after it sold over ten million copies. They performed at the Super Bowl Halftime show in 2008. Petty received the Billboard Century Award in 2005 for his creative achievement.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers recently went on a U.S. tour over the summer, including two shows here in Boston at TD Garden. Thousands of fans gathered to hear the band play their best hits for what would sadly be the last time.

Since his death, many fellow musicians have taken to social media: Imagine Dragons tweeted tweeted a video of them warming up to one of his songs before a show and Bruce Springsteen tweeted, “Down here on E Street, we’re devastated and heartbroken over the death of Tom Petty. Our hearts go out to his family and bandmates.” Fans have been posting tributes, videos and pictures, remembering one of their favorite artists of all time and the impact his music had on their lives. In his honor, Coldplay covered “Free Fallin’” at their concert in Oregon on Monday night.

For Petty, music was an escape, as he is quoted with saying, “music is probably the one real magic I have encountered in my life. It’s pure and it’s real.” His music has clearly been an escape and real magic for his listeners for years. There’s a Tom Petty song for every occasion, for every mood; his ballads are sweet, while his hits are catchy and easy to dance to. If you play guitar, you’ve probably played “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” and if you’ve sang karaoke in the middle of a crowded bar, chances are high you sang “Free Fallin’” or “American Girl.” His lyrics are relatable. His Southern twang and beautiful lyrics will live on forever in the hearts of millions. Just as he sang in his hit, “Wildflowers:” “you belong somewhere you feel free.” That you do, Mr. Petty. Thank you.


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